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Bridge History: The 4th Suit Forcing

Norman Squire formaly introduced the Fourth Suit to the public in 1957, in his book, The Theory of Bidding. This is an abstract of an original article he wrote in 1948.

I am a modernist, you know,one of those people who, according to various pundits, tie themselves into knots and
always get into the wrong contract thereby. I am not ashamed. Most of our experts play our type of bridge nowadays, use our sequences, think our way- and deny strenuously that they do anything of the sort. But to work.

Good partnership understanding demands that a limited bid be made as early as possible by one player. His partner then takes charge and immediately decides the final contract, or institutes some asking sequence with that end in view. South bids 2 over North’s opening 1 and, after North’s rebid of 2, bids 3. That is a limited bid. South has shown the full value of his hand and will not speak again unless asked to do so. He will automatically pass 4, but will respond to 5
or 4NT. Over an invitational bid he may find another Knave or so, he certainly cannot find another King.

That is normal. But there comes a time when the limited bid demanded by partner is impossible to find. It is here that the bid of the fourth suit can be invaluable. If you play an Approach-Forcing system the bid is automatically forcing and you will have no qualms about being left in it. If you do not play such a system you must be more careful. Yet with any system a responder’s » high» reverse must surely be unconditionally forcing. In the sequence: 1– 2 -2 – 3 (a responder’s high reverse) the 3 bid has created a forcing situation. The range of bids open to South here is so large that his choice of this apparently awkward one must have some very strong reason behind it.

This bid of the fourth suit is a very delicate and dangerous weapon. It bears a label «Not for beginners.» If your small boy wants to cut his nails he can use the old Scissors. Your best cut-throat razor might make a better job of it, but might
also do terrible damage. The increased efficiency is not worth the risk entailed. So give him the scissors. The same applies here. Because, although the bid of the fourth suit may be made with strength in that suit, it is very often made with neither strength nor length there. Let us see why.

South holds: J64 AJ854 K8 QJ7

North opens 1 and, over 1, rebids 2. What can poor South say? He is being asked to make a limited bid, and can’t. His hand is worth 2NT, but his Spade stop is missing. Either he must guess blindly or he must bid the fourth suit. I contend that the only bridge bid is 2. It is a low reverse here but should certainly not be passed. South thus creates his
forcing situation without having limited his hand. North must now make the limited bid. He answers naturally, but he
must know the possible implications of the bid of 2. One thing is sure: South has not a balanced holding with good Spades and Hearts, such as : AQ73 AQ92 82 Q62.

With that he bids 3 NT at once. So the bid of the fourth suit automatically denies the ability to make such a limited bid. South has either a Spade suit or is worried about the Spade suit. ‘Which, North cannot yet tell. But long Hearts South certainly has. Try to construct a hand with only four Hearts which makes this bid of 2, which cannot better give jump preference in Diamonds, raise Clubs, or bid No-Trumps quantitively. So North will give preference to Hearts if he can. Otherwise he will rebid one of his own suits or NT. Therefore, it is clear that he can hardly bid No-Trumps unless he himself stops the Spades. The worst he can have will be three small Spades, when No-Trumps will assuredly be the best spot.

There is nothing artificial or conventional about this bid of the fourth suit. It has a natural meaning and an equally natural alternative meaning. South may have a freak and be plugging on to slam in Hearts or , Spades regardless of North’s next bid. All he has done at the moment is to pass the buck, making an unlimited bid and creating a forcing situation.

WEST: AJ95 A10843 A65 5 East: K72 KQ9 KQ1043 104

This famous hand occurred in an international match. It has been much discussed in print. Not one writer has come near the key of it. In both rooms the first three bids were: 1 -2– 2.
East is now faced with an impossible task. He is being asked to limit his hand and he can’t. In one room he bid 3. West, ignoring the bid of 4 which might have got them out of trouble, went 4 and also went four down. Unlucky? Maybe!
In the other room East bid 3. The bidding died at 5, but this was West’s fault. He was still a bit shaky about these fourth suit bids. I know-I was West. I can assure you that the only thing which prevented me bidding the slam was a lurking fear that East might have a useless among his values. There in a nutshell is the answer to all the writers who
have speculated vainly about this hand. Terence Reese once gave us this in a television seance :

WEST: A5 642 AQ7643 A7 East(me): 8632 K82 KQJ1093

West opens 1 and over 2 rebids 2. I bid 2, and will defend the bid to the death, in the face of tradition and all the Grand Old Men. But what can West do now? He had a fair hand to start with; it has suddenly become much better, with the Aces of both his partner’s suits. But at the moment he has not the slightest idea where he is going with it. West found the bid of the fourth suit 3. Such a sequence should have made even me sit up : a simple rebid of 2, and then 3! But I died on him, and we stopped in 5. You will note that I have learned this fourth suit bid the hard way. After 3 the bidding should go: 4-5-5, and West chooses between 6 and 7. Why 7? East has shown a six-card Club suit and at least four Spades, and given Diamond support. If he isn’t void of Hearts all I can say is that there’s been a misdeal. Terence is probably capable of ringing in a misdeal if it suits him, but that is one of the factors that we should disregard.
West bids 6 because he lacks J and knows that dummy is going to be forced -at trick 1.

Nowadays, when I hear this fourth suit bid, I sit up and take notice. It usually puts me in an awkward spot, but I know that optimism will surely pay. It is odds that the hands fit, the only alternative being an enormous freak with partner. These hands are frequent, but the bid is still in its infancy even with the best players. There are nasty snags, jagged
rocks waiting for the unwary. The bid should not be used when it can deceive partner about distribution at a later stage (an article is needed to explain that fully). Don’t use it when it might be raised.

Take my first example: J64 AJ854 K8 QJ7, 2 is bid confidently, knowing that North cannot hold four Spades, or he would have bid 1 over 1, not 2. This presupposes a partner who bids his suits in the correct order, a partner with a good knowledge of bidding sequences. To avoid the rocks he must be first-class.

Now take the next quoted hand: K72 KQ9 KQ1043 104. It is not the slightest use bidding the fourth suit if you are playing with a partner who might still be stuffed with Clubs in spite of having bid two major suits. Some people might bid that way with: AJ95 A875 K9542. Perhaps they like to show their major suits quickly; perhaps they hope the enemy will bid Clubs. Perhaps they’re just nutty. But whatever the reason for their behaviour it is inadvisable to use
this bid with them.

This type of bid is presumably advanced. I am told it is, and I believe the tellers. But we don’t want elementary stuff all the time. If we want to play better bridge we must get educated: And that is where the answer to the use of this most valuable bid lies: in education, education of the bridge playing public in the fundamentals of bidding structure. When we
know a lot more about this subject we will realise that most bids form themselves perfectly naturally.

Because we bid in a certain way years ago does not make our present bidding immaculate. The traditionalists, the die-hards, the old guard will scoff. That we expect- that is also the privilege of past service. But it does not improve. the game. They lorded it over, initatites twenty years ago, by virtue of their then superior card-play. This does not make
their bidding-house any the less a mausoleum where rattle the bones of ancient triumphs, very, very dead, but which their vanity won’t let he down. All honour to Captain Webb, the first man to swim the Channel- but even the women
take half his time to do it to-day.


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